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How to fix the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection process

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Here’s how Vincent Lospinuso would fix the backlog of senior committee players inclusion in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

2010 Pro Football Hall of Fame Enshrinement Ceremony Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

It was after Tommy Nobis died, and I saw the Atlanta Falcons fan base send thoughts and prayers to his family. Their appreciation showed that “Mr. Falcon” will always be remembered in the city of Atlanta. However, I saw the fan base; however, say some other comments regarding Nobis After he passed.

These comments involved shaming the Pro Football Hall of fame voters because a legendary player like Nobis who has “hall of famer” written all over him is still not in yet. The comments that some fans have made about the voters included: inept, pathetic, disgraceful, corrupt, ignorant, incompetent, ill-informed, mentally-challenged and political. Some even said that they hope the decision to not have Nobis in the hall before he died was an absolute travesty and hope it haunts voters for the rest of their lives. Many Falcons fans have also been extremely angry because to them it was seen as “confirmation” that the voters are ill-informed on players who played on teams that weren’t good at the time, and saw it as a “punishment for the player.”

This doesn’t just go for fans of less-successful teams. People were assuming all along that the contributor committee would choose Pat Bowlen this year, because so many people kept browbeating the voters for his lack of a bronze bust. So I, along with any others, was a little surprised when Bobby Beathard was chosen instead. He was phenomenal choice and was worthy of his bronze bust, one of the great executives in football history.

People (mostly Denver Broncos fans) were noticeably furious that Bowlen wasn’t given the nod this year. They were pointing out how John Madden and Charley Casserly were at the table and they questioned if there was some sort of collusion or conflict of interest, and actually wondered if the Pro Football of Fame has some strange hatred for the Broncos or something because players like Steve Atwater and Randy Gradishar aren’t in yet.

Like the Falcons fans, Broncos fans have made mainly crude comments towards the voters, some even thinking that the hall has an inner hatred for the Broncos for some reason. In reality, there is no deep seeded hatred for the Broncos at all. Casserly said himself that there were many highly qualified candidates and that it was an extremely tough decision for everyone; he didn’t even vote. He discussed some candidates and gave some suggestions but that’s it. Also, in the last two years, the voters have already chosen two very deserving owners in Eddie DeBartolo and Jerry Jones. So there was a sense of lauding an executive this year, and that’s what they did. It’s not like Bowlen wasn’t considered at all; in fact, it was quite the opposite. Voters have suggested Beathard barely got the nod over him, and Hall of Fame voter Clark Judge on his Talk of Fame Network Podcast suggested that next year, Bowlen along with former Giants general manager George Young are the front runners for the two senior finalists for 2019. That, however, that didn’t stop some Broncos fans who went as far as saying that the voters will regret their decision when he’s gone. Regardless of the factual reasons to why they didn’t choose him, some kept saying that it wasn’t true and they legitimately believed the idea that the Hall of Fame apparently has a hatred for the Broncos. It was sad to look at this, to see so many people who believed in a deep rooted hatred for the team they cheer for every Sunday.

I know this is how it’s like to be a fan sometimes, thinking that everyone (refs/league/etc.) is out to get the team. Fans themselves face those who pose a strong legitimate and valid argument, and those that seemingly don’t know what they are talking about. I specifically mentioned Broncos and Falcons fans here because they have legitimate points. Granted, I vehemently disagree with all of the vast number of slanderous comments they have said to the voters. They have a bit of a reason for their anger. The Denver Broncos have been one of the most successful franchises in NFL history, with numerous playoff appearances, a bunch of division titles, eight Super Bowl appearances, and three Super Bowl wins. But despite their success, the team doesn’t have as much representation as it may deserve, and the team has a number of well-deserved figures such as Steve Atwater, Randy Gradishar, and Pat Bowlen who definitely deserve to have busts one day. Many can also understand their reaction to John Madden and Charley Casserly being in the room and thinking the hall has a conflict of interest at first glance. For the Falcons, it’s a sense of living back then, when there wasn’t the internet and streaming, and people generally just only saw their local teams, or the successful teams that were usually on television, leaving many deserving players on worse teams being lost in the shuffle.

So how can we fix this? How can we get these people the recognition they deserve? How can we increase the trust level fans when it comes to the voting process? Like others, I am concerned about the long line of deserving senior candidates as well as some coaches and even contributors who have such a difficult time reaching the Pro Football Hall of Fame. So to give them a fairer shot, I would like some suggestions, proposals, and ideas for the selection process for the Hall of Fame.

The biggest discussion when it comes to a lot of older players involves the senior category. Currently, since 2015, the senior category is chosen between one and two, alternating every other year with the contributor category. For example, one year they choose two seniors and a contributor. The next year they choose one senior and two contributors, and the process repeats itself. This format will continue to be in a format similar to this for one more year in 2019, where they will choose one senior and two contributors. So in 2021, after they have the 2020 “Amnesty Ballot” (which will most likely have some more seniors), The Hall of Fame will most likely make some changes. Some Hall of Fame voters such as Rick Goselin have complained about the senior category, because there are dozens to choose from and they can only choose one or two depending on the year.

In my proposal, the pool would be completely reworked and the players would be divided into four different sections, each section involving the eras that marked most of the player’s career or, in some instances, his best seasons. Similar to how it’s done now in baseball’s Hall of Fame.

For example, it might involve …

  • Pre-modern era (1920-49) (or from 1920-59)
  • Merger era (1950-79) (or from 1940-1979)
  • AFL (its entire run, 1960-69)
  • Football today (1980-present)

By “present,” I refer to the most recent year of players. For instance Mike Kenn’s first year of eligibility was in 2000. His final year of modern eligibility will be in 2019. If he doesn’t make it then, Kenn will have to wait five more years before he goes into the senior pool in 2025. This is how it works with all players who end up in the senior pool.

I have an entire section dedicated to players in the AFL, because there are just as many players that have been glossed potentially over due to some voters in the past feeling it was an inferior league (even though it is still considered NFL history).

As with baseball, ballots would alternate by the era on a year-to-year basis. For example, let’s say in 2021, the pool goes to the “today era,” and then in 2022 it goes to the “merger era.” That process would continue until 2025 when the pool would start all over again, returning to the “today era.” If not, they can alternate however they would like with the four eras, however the Hall might choose.

There are three different proposals for this idea to work out:

The first proposal involves having a list of six senior finalists from a particular era listed on a sheet of paper, and the voter would have to choose four, which is also the maximum.

This is what the proposal #1 would look like:

Let’s say, for instance, that the focus is on “merger-era” players, and that these are the choices:

  • Alan Ameche (FB)
  • Alex Karras (DT)
  • Tommy Nobis (LB)
  • Drew Pearson (WR)
  • L.C. Greenwood (DE)
  • Randy Gradishar (LB)

The voters would have to check off four of these names, and the percentage needed would be between 70-80% of the voters checking these players’ names. If none of these players get the percentage required, the Hall of Fame would choose the player with the most votes (let’s say it’s L.C. Greenwood) and that player would become a Hall of Famer.

The second proposal would be for the more conservative mind. This would have a list of five senior finalists from a particular era listed on a sheet of paper, and the voter would have to choose three, which is the maximum.

This is what proposal #2 would look like:

Let’s say, for instance, that the focus is on “AFL” players, and that these are the choices:

  • Daryle Lamonica (QB)
  • Cookie Gilchrist (RB)
  • Gino Cappelletti (WR)
  • Walt Sweeney (G)
  • Johnny Robinson (S)

The maximum of seniors per year would be three, and to get in, like the first proposal, the senior finalist would need between at least 70-80% of the vote just like in the first proposal. And just like the first proposal, if none of them make it to that percentage, they would also go with the one with the most votes (let’s say Johnny Robinson).

The third proposal would be the most unique out of the three. There would be two sheets of paper involving senior finalists. Each of the two would have four senior finalists from a particular era (for instance Pre-Modern for one, and Football Today for the other), making eight in total. The voter would have to choose only two finalists per list. Four would, of course, be the maximum and like the other two, the finalist would need between at least 70-80% of the vote.

This is what proposal #3 would look like:

Let’s say for instance, the first of the two sheets has finalists from the “Pre-Modern Era.”

  • Duke Slater (T)
  • LaVern Dilweg (E)
  • Gaynell Tinsley (E)
  • Mac Speedie (E)

Also, let’s say the other sheet contains finalists from the “Football Today-Era.”

  • Ken Anderson (QB)
  • Joe Klecko (DL)
  • Lester Hayes (CB)
  • Billy “White Shoes” Johnson (WR/KR)

Unlike the other two, however, if none of the finalists make it to that minimum percentage, the Hall of Fame would Proceed with the one with the most votes in each of the two lists (Example: Mac Speedie, Ken Anderson). This would make the minimum for the finalists two.

If a senior finalist does not gain a bust that year regardless of year or era, the cycle would continue, and they could be nominated as a finalist as many times as the selectors vote. This would be the same for all three of the senior proposals.

Perhaps the Hall of Fame would benefit from another section too, apart from the senior and contributor categories. That would be a section dedicated to the coaches, and it would include not only head coaches but also some assistants, as well. I believe this is necessary because, like the seniors, there are so many deserving coaches who are currently not in Canton. Furthermore, all of the eligible coaches are dumped into modern-era ballots with players, which leads to many passed over in favor of players within the same ballot. How can one really compare the careers of John Lynch and Don Coryell? It’s simple, you can’t.

Like the players, coaches would have to wait five years after retirement to be eligible. In my vision, however, they would have their own section and would be selected by a separate coaches’ committee, akin to the senior and contributor committees we have now. There are two proposals that can use this idea.

The first proposal would mirror how the senior and contributor finalists are done today:

  • Year A — one coach, two contributors.
  • Year B — Two coaches, one contributor, with the cycle repeating itself afterward.

The second proposal would take a more conservative approach. This would have one coach and one contributor finalist chosen every year. Regardless of the proposal, for the coaches and contributors, the process would be nearly identical to how the current senior and contributor ballots are tabulated: two-three small index cards, with voters checking “Yes” or “No” on candidates. And, as it is today, 80 percent approval would be required.

Once the senior committee chooses its finalists and the contributor and coaches’ committees choose their candidates, all would be voted on in February, as it is done now. With more finalists, of course, there would be more deliberation and case making.

The regular modern-era ballot could be the same as now, starting with 15, with the list cut first to 10 and then to five — with an 80% vote required. But perhaps, if they want, the hall can decide in 2021 to have the modern voting changed a bit. This idea would still have 15 modern finalists, with the list being cut to 10-- but the committee would cut the list at six instead of five. Just like the current format, an 80% vote would be required for induction.

This format is tenable because in the next few years, we are going to get classes such as 2021 and 2022 where there will be a lot of highly qualified first year eligible. Limited to five candidates, the process would push some finalists that have been there longer to wait longer. Raising the maximum to the modern-era nominees would lessen the logjam for the incoming eligibles, and allow former players who waited longer a fairer shot to see induction. If, for example, the committee implemented this format for 2018, and instead of having just the five modern era nominees they already had, they would have another player like Tony Boselli. The year afterwards, there would be one fewer candidate about which the voters would have to worry.

In total, using any combination of the proposals using my idea, the maximum number of people in each Hall of Fame class would be between 10-13 with the modern-era class maximum increased from five to six, three-four seniors, one or two coaches and one or two contributors, and with numbers for the last two categories alternating every other year. If, however, there is no senior candidate chosen, those persons would return to the pool and remain eligible for election when their era is up for election again. They could be nominated as many times as selectors vote.

The most vocal people begging for change and/or demanding for their “guy” to be inducted are usually fans of a certain team. Granted, even though these people are fans and they can be rather emotional in their requests sometimes doesn’t mean they don’t have a valid or credible argument. Whether its fans being fans or not, there needs to be a way to reduce this anger that masses of people are increasingly having with the Pro Football Hall of Fame at the moment. The best way and the only way to reduce this anger, is to increase the maximum by a few inductees. While there are some people who prefer the idea of a “small hall,” when you have less people in, it only gets more people angry, more people upset, more people debating: the result is undermined voter respect. To be fair, I can understand why some of the selectors who decide on the maximum may be reluctant to increase it. Just because this exists, however, and Hall of Fame can’t please everybody, doesn’t mean it can’t be reduced. The voters vote on who gets in, but they aren’t the ones who pay for a ticket to get in, it’s the fans, and the fans want change. If as a brand the Hall of Fame wants to continue growing, which they have already been doing great (see the USA Today award), they should increase the maximum by a few. That way the Hall of Fame yields more revenue, and more approval.

If readers want to see change or you like this proposal, I suggest all send their complaints to the voters, send them to Joe Horrigan, and send them to Hall of Fame president David Baker. The only way change is going to truly happen is if as many people get the idea as possible. The fans are all the people who follows their product, and because of that you all have a right to inform the Hall of Fame that they want the maximum to be increased. I implore the audience to do it as many times possible: spread this article to the voters and the employees at the hall to convince them of this change. Good luck.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Vincent Lospinuso is a sophomore at Hofstra University, majoring in broadcast journalism with an emphasis on sports media. He not only is an avid sports fan but someone who has a keen interest in the Pro Football Hall of Fame and who one day would like to be a voter. He asked if he could share his thoughts on the senior pool with us, and we agreed. Here, then, is a different perspective on how to address a problem that won’t go away.